Our snubs: All-UP Girls Basketball teams

4/14/2020 | Column | By Staff

A s is tradition, debates ensue in the wake of the All-UP announcements. Players’ skill sets are compared, resumes are discussed and any oversights one may feel are typically brought to attention. It’s the natural result of a subjective voting system that normally includes over 20 voters.

This year, selecting the teams was less of an exact science than for previous seasons. With no in-person meeting, the ability to make a player’s case in front of a roomful of voters was absent. Detail and context were lost on each candidate. Instead, voters had to rely on a stat line and a few sentences about each player to make their picks, with no live discussions comparing players. Besides the pitches and conversations being the fun part of the meeting, they help other people who may not have seen certain players become better informed. We’re not going to imply that the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association gets it 100 percent correct every year, but it’s fair to wonder how the All-UP teams could look different if the meeting was held under regular circumstances.

Upbeat’s writers, Bryce Derouin, Eden Laase and Keith Shelton, and Daily Globe Sports Editor Jason Juno, take a look at the players they feel were overlooked. Today we’re looking at the All-UP Girls teams.

Madelyn Koski, Senior, Westwood

What she was named: Division 1-3 All-UP First Team

What she should have been: All-UP Dream Team

LAASE: Madelyn Koski got robbed for a spot on Dream Team, plain and simple. Her resume is top notch — 12.3 points, 3.8 assists, 2.5 steals, over 1,000 career points and a spot playing for Division 2 Ferris State next season. Plus, she led Westwood to a 22-2 record and a regional final appearance prior to the season cancellation. 

Koski certainly is a Dream Team caliber player, but she was hurt by two things in the voting process. The first, being the format of this season’s ballot. Koski played on perhaps the most balanced team in the UP, with three other double-digit scorers in Tessa Leece, Natalie Prophet and Karlie Patron. Her stats could have been even more impressive had she been the lone talent on a mediocre team, but instead, Koski ran the point for a well-rounded squad. Because of coronavirus, the UPSAA didn’t meet in person for the voting process, so a case for Koski couldn’t be made. Believe me, if we had met, I would have fought hard for her to earn the Dream Team nod. Koski was penalized for playing for a good team, and not being selfish enough to pad her stats. 

The second thing that hurt the senior guard was the limited postseason. Koski shines in the tournament. She scored 15 points against Negaunee and had 20 against Bark River-Harris in districts. Had she continued at that rate, and Westwood made it downstate, voting against Koski would have been near impossible. 

Still, what Koski did on the court should have been enough to earn her a spot on the Dream Team for the second year in a row. She’s even better than last season, and she was good enough then to earn a spot. So what changed? Nothing.

DEROUIN: The depth of talent this year in girls basketball was as deep as I can recently remember. Ten girls are either committed or have received Division II basketball offers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seems to be unprecedented in the UP. Add in skilled high school players who are headed to play collegiately in other sports, and you end up with as many as 15 girls worthy of a Dream Team selection. One could make an ardent case for any of those players fitting the criteria and it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. 

With as much nuance going into each candidate’s case, an in-person meeting would have benefited every candidate on the girls side. Numbers without context fail to properly highlight the type of skill set a player has or the impact it made throughout a season. Someone was bound to be shortsighted due to the balloting process, and it was Koski. 

There are typically three criteria a Dream Team nominee hits on: college offers, team success and individual stats. Being a Ferris State signee and leading Westwood to a 22-2 record, Koski clearly hits on 2 of 3, while more context was needed on her stats to give her a better case. Eden already touched on the balanced scoring effort that keyed the Patriots, which is the primary reason her numbers are lower than other Dream Team players, but Westwood’s dominance played just as much of a role in that regard. In 13 of the Patriots’ 22 wins, they won by 20 points or more, meaning Koski didn’t see the floor in the majority of those fourth-quarter blowout wins. It’s fair to wonder how much higher Koski’s points per game average could have been if she had played on a less dominant team where she regularly played the fourth quarter of closer contests. 

The reality is that a shortened postseason harmed Koski’s bid for a Dream Team nod the most. Eden already mentioned Koski’s penchant to play her best throughout the postseason, just as she did a year ago in the regional finals when she scored a team-high 14 points in a 49-27 victory over Charlevoix. Another regional title win over Charlevoix would have made it easier to convince voters that two players (along with Tessa Leece) from the same team are worthy of being Dream Team selections. 

Maija Rice, Junior, L’Anse

What she was named: Division 4 All-UP Second Team

What she should have been: Division 4 All-UP First Team

LAASE: In my argument for Dollar Bay’s Davin Hill in the boys column, I mentioned the lack of Copper Country representation at the All-UP meeting. That is the same thing that impacted L’Anse’s Maija Rice. 

The junior guard put up incredible numbers – 17.8 points, 7 rebounds, 4.8 steals and 3.9 assists per game. She was the best player on a L’Anse team that went 20-4 with wins over Baraga (21-3) in the regular season, and Carney-Nadeau (20-5) and E-TC (21-2) in the postseason. 

Rice was the driving force in each of those contests. 

She scored 22 points against C-N and 11 against E-TC, as her team’s leading scorer in both contests.

Rice was a consistent point-getter all season, but she played her best basketball against the best competition. That should be worth something.

When the Purple Hornets defeated Baraga on Jan. 31, it snapped a 12-game winning streak for the Vikings. And guess who the leading scorer was? Maija Rice. She poured in 21 points, including eight in the fourth quarter to secure the win. And, she does it in a variety of ways. When the junior wants to get to the rim, good luck stopping her. With a combination of finesse, footwork and athleticism, she knows how to finish at the rim, draw fouls, or pull up in the midrange.

Luckily, the junior guard will have another chance at All-UP First Team next season, but she was worthy of earning a spot this time around.

DEROUIN: The central boys and girls Division 4 regionals are typically my favorite in the UP. With many of those teams having locked in schedules due to league games, the regionals put the area’s best from around the UP up against each other after a season of poll shuffling. Finally, you get to see how the top players and teams stack up, and a strong performance with a victory can do wonders for a player’s All-UP case. All one has to do is bring up the regional showing, and it’s normally enough to get a player over the edge on a nomination. 

These reasons are why Maija Rice deserved a First Team selection. 

Her 22 points in the 53-47 win over C-N validated her 17.8 points, 7 rebounds, 4.8 steals and 3.9 assists per game. Regardless of the lack of parity in the Copper Mountain Conference, Rice solidified her case as one of the top UP players in Division 4 with her regional semifinal outing.

Just getting to Kingsford required late-game heroics from Rice. Her 11 points in the win over E-TC came in a game where the final score was 39-34. In that district final win, Rice scored seven of the team’s 12 points in the final 5 minutes, 45 seconds of the game, including the go-ahead 3 to break a 27-27 tie that gave her team the lead.

A L’Anse squad that earned three wins over top five teams deserved a First Team selection, and given Rice’s numbers and signature moments, she deserved more recognition for her efforts.

Keith Shelton

Taylor Ray, Escanaba, Senior

What she was named: Division 1-3 All-UP Honorable Mention

What she should have been: Division 1-3 All-UP Second Team

Escanaba senior Taylor Ray was often overshadowed in games by Escanaba star junior Nicole Kamin. However, the Eskymos aren’t celebrating their best season in 20 years without significant contributions from Ray. Escanaba has had star players in the past such as Olivia Nash or Michelle LaFave both Dream Team players, as is Kamin but has not won a district title until this season.

In addition to her 13 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2 steals per game, Ray possesses the clutch ability to take over a game when it comes to crunch time. Time and time again, Ray has hit the dagger in the heart 3-pointer from the wing to seal a game, even this season, in overtime against rival Gladstone. She was described by head coach Mike Beveridge as being his leader on the court. Certainly deserving a Second Team All-U.P. mention, Ray’s hard-nosed attitude and senior leadership was what Escanaba needed to finally achieve a district title

Abbie LeGault, Ewen-Trout Creek, Junior

What she was named: Division 4 All-UP Honorable Mention

What she should have been: Division 4 All-UP Second Team

Ewen-Trout Creek, the second-ranked team in the U.P. all season, got there with balance good guards and a good inside game.

That inside game was anchored by junior Abbie LeGault, who deserved a spot on the Division 4 All-UP Second Team.

She averaged 13.5 points and 8 rebounds per game for the Panthers.

“She brings that inside presence, if she weren’t there, I know it’d be more difficult on my guards,” E-TC coach Jacky Besonen said. “As the season went on, teams really collapsed one her to try to stop her. That gave more open looks to our guards.”

Three players from top-ranked St. Ignace made the All-UP team with third-ranked Baraga getting two, all deservedly so. Second-ranked E-TC only got one, Dream Teamer Elise Besonen. Their difference-maker in the post deserved a spot, too.

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